"If you don’t like vinegar," a Portuguese elder once told me, "you aren’t Portuguese."
Indeed, vinegar finds its way into many specialties of my culture: the much-loved vinha d’ahlos marinade for meats and fish, crunchy pickled onions, fish soups, salt cod salad, various sauces and dressings.
At Thanksgiving, many Hawaii Portuguese families make a Vinha D’ahlos Turkey, marinating the bird overnight in vinegar, garlic, hot red peppers, sometimes wine, sometimes various spices ranging from cinnamon to cumin and pickling spice. (Vinha d’ahlos means, roughly, "wine of garlic.")
The ingredients in each household depend, as they always do, on what Vovo (grandma) preferred.
My grandma didn’t like heat in her food. Grandpa, on the other hand, wanted his vinha d’ahlos pica, pica, pica (spicy, sharp, hot).
Every year, a heated debate would erupt at the kitchen counter where grandma would be mixing the marinade in a big blue bowl and grandpa, who rarely ventured into her territory, would appear urging her to add more garlic and nioi (Hawaiian peppers — the red ones about the width of a baby’s little finger).
I once saw him go behind her back and add a pepper or two, which he shredded with his fingers, and some garlic cloves crushed between his big, strong printer’s hands. He saw me looking and winked. I think he’d had his daily ration of a jigger of whiskey and was feeling frisky.
To Vinha D’ahlos a turkey, rub the bird with salt and spices and immerse it in a vinegar-and-water or vinegar-and-wine mixture. The safest way to do this is in a cooler, with ice cubes instead of water, to keep it cold. Or, if you can find room in the refrigerator (good luck in my house), place it in a sturdy plastic bag with the marinade and refrigerate. The turkey marinates overnight and then is roasted in the standard way.
Some people even boil the marinade and pass it at the table as a sauce.
A traditional side dish is recheao ("rooshadoo"), a bread stuffing. Some people make it with broa ("BRO-ah"), Portuguese yeast-raised cornbread, broken up and toasted. Delicious!
With her turkey, grandma served a simple bread dressing made with lots of fresh flat-leaf parsley (she called it Portuguese parsley, not Italian).
She stuffed the bird. I don’t because it cooks faster without stuffing, and the stuffing actually draws moisture out of the meat, which already has a tendency to dry out. Also, it’s safer: no chance that some raw juice may lurk in the stuffing.
We also had conventional American sides, such as cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy made from the drippings. But a more Portuguese treatment would be to boil peeled potatoes with onions, drain them and fry them gently in olive oil and butter with bay leaves or rosemary.
Every Portuguese garden harbored rosemary (alecrim; "ah-lay-kreeng") because it warded off the evil eye. And many in Hawaii had their own bay trees (louro).
Christmas meant torresmos, chunks of pork butt marinated in vinha d’ahlos, boiled briefly in the marinade, drained, then fried crisp in olive or vegetable oil and served with parsley-flecked scrambled eggs and salty green olives. This would be served in the wee hours of the morning, after midnight Mass. Later, as grandma and grandpa aged, we abandoned midnight Mass and ate our torresmos breakfast in the morning, after an early Mass.
In mainland Portugal, the marinade might be made with red wine vinegar, lemon juice and masa de pimentel (a paste of dried and salted sweet red peppers), then cooked in lard ("pork fat rules," says Emeril, and he’s Portuguese). But traditions differ between mainland Portugal and the Atlantic islands from which most original Hawaii Portuguese emigrated.
One thing that does not differ is the proper pronunciation of vinha d’ahlos. For some reason, many isle Portuguese pronounce it "vinga doyzh". Technically, that means pickled eyeballs, not an attractive picture. The proper pronunciation is "vinga d’ ohyohs."
Alongside imu turkey, Chinese-style turkey (soy sauce, ginger, five-spice, hoisin), vinha d’ahlos turkey illustrates the multicultural blend of recipes unique to the isles, reminiscent of our roots but fundamentally changed, as well.
Feliz festas (happy feasting)!